“I’m feeling kinda woozy. I’ve been crying for an hour,
And my boyfriend has an ooze and he doesn’t clean the shower”
David Yazbek’s musical take on Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown hasn’t had the best time of it really, managing four months on Broadway in the winter of 2010 and then repeating a run of a similar length in the West End in 2015 in a retooled version that evidently did little to help. The Spanish director’s work is so richly musical that one might have thought musical theatre would gel easily with it but the reality is far more complex and difficult.
And so the result is something really quite challenging, often on the cusp of making the breakthrough to become the musical it ought to be but all too rarely making it. The main problem lies in a distinct lack of purpose to both Yazbek’s score and Jeffrey Lane’s book, even as it cleaves closely to the original film with its web of Madrid women with intricately connected love-lives circling around the same feckless men over the course of a tumultuous 48 hours.
Yazbek and Lane flit endlessly between the considerable number of characters to disastrous effect, never letting us settle on major characters to any level of satisfactory depth – Sherie Rene Scott’s Pepa is the main victim here, well sung but under-nourished by the material that ought to forefront her. The presence of bona fide Broadway stars Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell in the company and with a good handful of musical numbers to themselves might have something to do with this.
LuPone’s Lucia, the ex-mental patient and current wife to the man Pepa is sleeping with at least gets a proper hit in the second act’s ‘Invisible’ which bemoans the lot of an older woman with an almost 60s swing but it does come at the cost of narrative progression here. Mitchell’s Ivan, the man Pepa and Lucia both love (and hate) feels much more shoehorned in – his character is scarcely there in the show and yet he repeatedly gets key musical moments (possibly befitting Mitchell’s status rather than Ivan’s….).
Danny Burstein’s cab driver gets a decent tune or two, especially in ‘Madrid’ but it’s Laura Benanti’s poseur Candela who gets the stand-out moment in the frantic ‘Model Behavior’ which comes closest to capturing Almodóvar’s zany spirit but that that is the only time you can really say that about the whole show is pretty much unforgivable – ay dios mio..